Angela’s Story: Choosing to Educate Differently

Angela Post

Our culture has become increasingly polarized politically and I believe this polarization is crossing over into other choices we make for our families. This polarization, gives parents the sense that they need to defend their choices: full-time mom vs. working mom; public school vs. private school vs. homeschool; spanking vs. no spanking. We make these important decisions for our family and we want to think we made the righteous and best choice. As Rachel Held Evans says in her book Biblical Womanhood, “I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here.” At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our children. My family has chosen to homeschool because it is what works best for us.

We first chose to homeschool for academic and emotional reasons. Our daughter was in public school and had been moved up two grade levels. And even with the advanced grade and gifted classes, we still felt like her needs were not being met academically and certainly not emotionally. That was fifteen years ago and our reasons for homeschooling have deepened and grown. These are some of the reasons homeschooling works for our family:

1. Academics- The best reason I have for homeschooling is that I get to be the architect of my children’s education. One of the benefits of homeschooling is teaching children at their level and focusing on their interests. My oldest daughter loved to read. She began reading Shakespeare at 11. I have another daughter that struggled with reading. I was able to design curriculum around their individual needs. If my children show an interest in a particular topic, we take time to study it. I believe this helps to instill a love of life-long learning. There are no state tests or Common Core telling us what to study and yet, my kids do very well on national standardized tests that they are given each year. I get to choose the curriculum we use. I get to base that choice around their individual needs. My children are being taught one-on-one. That alone helps them exceed what they would be able to do in a classroom. My first two children began taking college classes at 13 and 15 respectively. We are simply able to do more academically in a shorter amount of time.

2. Socialization- I find it interesting that so many people claim socialization as a reason not to homeschool when in reality it is one of the major reasons we choose to homeschool. Who said that the proper place to socialize a child is by putting them in a 20 X 30 room with 20 of their same age peers, often from the same social-economic level, with one adult overseeing their interactions? My children get tons of social interactions with multiple aged people in different settings. We do field trips, soccer, ballet, gymnastics, church, youth, 4-H, community outreach, play dates and sleepovers. The beauty is that I am the guide of these social interactions. I often get to observe their interactions (especially when they are young), and I can help them maneuver through situations where they need to offer kindness or when they need to stand up to a bully. I can remove them from unhealthy situations and teach them how to interact with others, first hand. As they get older, they spend more time away from me but they have a foundation of appropriate social interactions.

3. Flexibility- Flexibility is one of the best reasons to homeschool. There is flexibility when we start and end the school year and flexibility when we start and finish our school day. There is flexibility in where we do school. We were able to go to Israel for a semester. We brought our books along, but what my kids learned being in Israel, traveling every day, certainly outweighed what they learned from books. We can spend our mornings at Disney, or do an entire school day at Epcot. We go to parks and museums when there are no crowds. One morning last week my kids begged to go swimming. It was 10:00 AM, but I let them and they spent three hours in the pool. I loved watching them have fun together. They had lunch, and finished their schoolwork in the afternoon. It was a great day!

4. Moral compass- The reasons I made the decision to sacrifice a second income and stay home with my kids when they were infants are a lot of the same reasons we choose to homeschool. I like my kids. They are smart, funny and delightful. I want to be the person that leads them, that teaches them the things that matter in this world. If we learn by example, I want to be that example. Faith, justice and mercy are very important to our family, and I want to share that with my children. I want to teach them about the love of God, family and the importance of helping the underprivileged and marginalized. I firmly believe that you assimilate to your surroundings. If a child spends at least half of their day, five days a week with others, whose values will they absorb into their lives? I don’t want to leave it to a teacher I don’t know and certainly don’t want to rest the training of the moral compass of my children on the shoulders of the kids in their classroom. I want to share my heart with my children, and I want to know what they are passionate about so that I can help them pursue that passion. I am not a pro, but have so far raised two teenage girls and they are amazing. I have beautiful relationships with both of them. They are respectful, they ask my advice, we talk, we laugh; we enjoy being together. They are strong, compassionate and confident ladies. They have missed a lot of the mess that so many other girls their ages have to struggle through. Peer pressure is real, and while my girls have had some peer pressure, the majority of their influence has been from their family, not friends. They do not spend their days trying to fit in and be accepted by others who are trying just as hard to fit in and be accepted.

After twenty-three years of parenting, I have come to realize that there is little black and white in the choices we make, but there is a lot of gray. And in that gray is a lot of room for grace, because God is in it all. God is with the mom that is at home with her children and with the mom working outside of the home. Homeschooling works for my family. For other families, public or private schools work best. As Rachel Held Evans also says, “be careful of challenging another woman’s choices, for you never know when she may be sitting at the feet of God.” We have the grace to make the decisions that work best for our families. There are multitudes of good choices to be made and multitudes of good reasons to make them. We need to offer grace to those who choose differently than us.

Socialization Can and Does Exist Outside of the Classroom

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The biggest push-back I receive when discussing the choice to homeschool is the issue of socialization.  Socialization can take on two different meanings; one  addresses an individual’s interactions with others and the second addresses how an individual is conditioned to behave in society.  As I have written in previous posts, it is a common notion in our society that socialization only occurs within a “regular” classroom setting.  Because of this notion, the general public seems to think that parents who homeschool are doing their children a disservice.  It is believed that parents who homeschool desire to limit their children’s social interactions with others, and are not properly conditioning them to behave appropriately in society.

What I’ve realized is that those who uphold this negative outlook are making the assumption that the desire to shelter one’s children is only found within the homeschooling community; as if homeschooling and sheltering are interconnected–impossible for one to exist without the other.  In reality, the desire to sequester one’s child can be found in all parents, not just those who homeschool.

The assumption is also made that socialization–in the sense of conditioning a child to behave appropriately in society–is a uniform standard for education.  Socialization in that sense of the word, is not a standard, but a philosophy that even some within the public school system do not uphold.  Not everyone views education as a means to integrate children into what society calls for and/or needs.

I met with a friend and former boss this past week to discuss the issue of socialization.  Her name is Christina Allen, and she has been homeschooling her children for years.  This is what she had to say:

“In today’s schools, recess is no longer a part of a student’s schedule, and many schools have turned lunches silent.  So, then that leads us to the classroom where students‘ desks are set up in a row facing the teacher.  This set up is not very conducive to socializing.  If the classroom is the only environment in which a student is expected to socialize, their socialization is going to be limited.”

Christina went on to explain that socializing, in the sense of interacting with one’s peers, is not inhibited by the educational path a parent chooses, it is inhibited by the type of environment the parent provides for their child.  If a child is removed from society and lacks community, then they are lacking  socialization.  This can occur in any educational path.

Christina also feels that parents put too much emphasis on the word “socializing,” forgetting what socializing leads to: relationships. If children are to only socialize in the classroom, then their relationships are typically going to be with children of the same age and same socioeconomic background.

“What our children actually need are relationships; relationships that extend beyond their generation and their socioeconomic background.”

We continued our discussion by addressing socialization as a means of preparing children for the workforce.  The common held belief is that if children are removed from the “regular” classroom setting, they will not be as well-prepared as other students upon entering the workforce.  Though Christina’s schooling may look different than the public school system, her children are still learning valuable lessons such as time management and individual responsibility.  But she does not see her role as teacher to be one of conditioning her children to do good work.

“I don’t want my children to be good at their jobs because they have been conditioned to do so.  I want my children to be good at their jobs because they have a passion for what they are doing.”

What I learned through my conversation with Christina is that to truly provide socialization in our children’s lives, we must stop solely looking to the schools.  Socialization cannot simply just take place within the classroom.  We as parents, regardless of what educational path we chose for our kids, have a role play.

For Christina, it’s all about living in community.

Christina and her family are intentional residents in a low-income neighborhood.  This simply means they are making the choice to be present and engaged in their neighborhood: making an effort to know their neighbors, to know their neighbor’s kids, and even to know their pets.  It also means they are working to be the neighbor someone can go to if they need a cup of sugar, an errand companion, or just an ear to listen.  The way in which Christina addresses the issue of socialization is through the environment she provides for her children, and that is an environment of community.

Christina’s children aware that when their school day ends that does not mean their socializing ends with it.  When their lessons are finished for the day, they go out into the community intentionally engaging with those around them

The problem with the notion that socialization solely occurs in the classroom is that parents are failing to see they too have a role to play.  Parents who expect the school to take on the responsibility of socialization are doing their children a disservice as well.  Our society needs to stop solely confronting the homeschool family on how they socialize their children, and start confronting all parents about this particular issues. It’s time that all parents face these questions.

Why We Will Homeschool

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I believe that education is not a “one size fits all” system. Every child is different, every family is different, and every school district is different. I whole-heartedly believe in the freedom and grace for each family to decide for themselves what the best fit is for their child’s education. It is my husband and my personal decision to choose the homeschooling route for our children. In no way do I believe we are making the more righteous choice in education, because I believe that there simply is no such thing as a righteous choice when it comes to schooling. With all that being said, here are our key reasons for choosing to homeschool:

1. I don’t believe in teaching to the test.

I grew up in the Florida public school system, so FCAT was god. FCAT told my teachers what was allowed on their lesson plans, which words were deemed acceptable for vocabulary tests, and that the only acceptable form of writing is a 5 paragraph essay. FCAT determined the educational future for all those who took it. We were given numbers 1-5, which then determined what classes we were allowed to take. I remember my senior year in high school, when FCAT was no longer required, yet our teachers were still forced to spend the first 10 minutes of a 45 minute class covering the FCAT vocabulary words of the week. Tests are inevitable no matter what course of education you pursue, I just believe that my child should learn more then what is on any given test, and that their educational career should not be defined by their score on a single test.

2. Contrary to popular belief, I believe school is for education not socialization.

There is a popular notion in our society that school is a great resource in socializing our children. This is one of many issues that the general public has with homeschoolers, because they feel that we are doing our children a disservice by not socializing them in the traditional school setting. My husband and I chose not to buy into this particular notion. First of all, we are limiting our thinking if we honestly believe that the public school system is the one-and-only appropriate source of socialization. The homeschool network can also provide interaction with one’s peers, discovering and pursuing one’s passions, and can help a child engage in diversity through co-ops, group classes, field trips, sports, clubs, church, etc. Second of all, what are we teaching our children if we present school as the only means to meet friends and interact with others? This is not reality, because one day school will end. Third of all, I believe the front-runner in my child’s education should be his/her academic pursuits. When it is time for school, I believe it is time for education. Upon entering college, I was amazed to find what could be accomplished within a semester, meeting 2-3 times a week. My desire is to be more efficient with my child’s education, removing the 8 hour time constraint, allowing them to work at their own pace. This will then open up more time for extra-curricular activities.

3. I get to fully know those who educate my child.

I grew up in the public education system. I’ve had some absolutely amazing teachers, and I’ve had some not-so-great teachers. I’ve had teachers whose passion was teaching and children, and then I’ve had teachers who chose their career path in order to match the vacations of their family. Believe me, you can tell the difference. The unknown variable of the teachers in the public and private school system is not something I wish to encounter. I do not want to hear myself every summer say, “May the odds be ever in our favor.” Through homeschooling, I am able to choose who will be teaching my children, and I have the opportunity to fully know those individuals with an influential role in my child’s life.

4. I am able to identify and cultivate my child’s talents and interests at a young age.

Electives do exist within the homeschooling network, contrary to what you may think. The beauty of this network is not being limited to what your specific school has to offer. Public and private schools are confined by budgets and what personnel they have on hand. If a student’s interests go beyond what is being offered, they must transform their interests to match the school’s options, or they are forced to look outside of their school to others avenues where they can dedicate what little time they have left in their day. A child’s options are even more limited in elementary school. Homeschooling allows my elementary-aged child to show interest beyond p.e., art, or choir, with curriculum to further cultivate those interests.

5. My husband’s and my philosophy in education is best met through homeschooling.

Our philosophy can be described through this quote:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire

The way in which we see ourselves educating our children to deal “critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” is through homeschooling.

Homeschooling is Not the Righteous Choice in Education, But Neither is Public or Private School

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This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but there is quite the stigma attached to homeschooling.  Many individuals perceive homeschoolers as socially inept, incapable of interacting with their peers, having a degree of egotism, and not as well-rounded as those who attend “regular” school.  Then there is the perception of the parents who force their children down this path.  They’re seen as these crazy, fundamentalist Christians who are terrified of the big bad wolf known as the public school system. And so they sequester their babies, lest those terrible heathens negatively influence poor, innocent, and naive Johnny.

I recently viewed a documentary where all these stereotypes fit into one family.  I watched in horror as this freckled-faced little boy was being told the terrors of evolution from his mother (my apologies to those whose faith is founded on the concept of creationism, I just simply believe that Christianity and one’s salvation cannot be shattered by the literal or figurative interpretation of the creation narrative).  Then the younger brother enters the room, beginning his “science lesson” of the day and he states that he felt Galileo made the right decision  giving up science for Christ (I am tired of hearing all the cases against science from Christians, they can and do co-exist because all truth is God’s truth.  And on another note: since when is teaching the unimportance of science a science lesson?).  The scene concludes with the mother claiming that the godly and righteous path for education is homeschooling.

Just to clarify, there is no righteous path in education.  The only righteous choice is your decision to be an active parent in whatever path your child embarks on.

As I concluded watching this scene, I was filled with so many emotions.  Contrary to what you may think, I did not feel fear or hatred towards homeschooling, nor did I feel disgust towards the family.  What I did feel was that there is an incredible disservice being done to those who homeschool.  We watch documentaries such as this and assume all homeschoolers are the same.

Yes, people like those depicted in the documentary do exist within homeschooling, but as I have learned, it tends to be those with the most extreme views who are the loudest in our society.  These types of individuals always find their way to our television screens.  Why you might ask?  Because they create ratings, they generate traffic, and unfortunately our American populace has deemed the extremist entertaining.

But since when did we start whole-heartedly believing everything we see on TV?  Aren’t we supposed to come to a place where we recognize that not everything is as it appears to be? Yet, so many of us take the horror stories we hear from others, or the incredibly biased interviews and documentaries we see on our television screens and determine that this is a true representation of homeschooling.  And if by some miraculous act we encounter a “normal” homeschooler, we then deem them to be the rare exception.

But what if I were to tell you that these extremists are actually the rarity?  Would you believe me?

I ask that you cast your preconceived notions aside and join me these next couple of weeks as I showcase the real faces, the real stories, and the real reasons behind homeschooling.  As the French poet, Victor Hugo, once said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”  Within the realms of homeschooling, the school door may look more like what you walk through after a long day’s work, but it can also be a door being opened to education, opportunities, and possibilities.

True Gentleness is Giving a Hand to the Frazzled Mom

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I was at a gathering one night where a group of women were discussing the concept of gentleness.  Parenting was brought up and what gentleness looks like in that realm.  One woman offered a story:

Two moms were going to the grocery store.  One mom was soft-spoken and gentle with her children, and they remained quiet and obedient throughout the shopping trip.  The other mom entered the store frazzled and yelling at her children as they dart every which way.  The first mom embodied true gentleness, while the other just appears foolish to her fellow shoppers.

My eyes widened, and I’m sure my jaw must have dropped.  I looked around the room expecting to see other faces mirroring mine, only to find that I was alone.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I just have one of those faces—you know the kind.  It’s the face that perfectly reflects the thoughts and emotions of the person without any censor.  Oh, those darn faces!  I’m certain that there were other women that night whom felt the same way as I, but I guess I was the only one whose face was outing her emotions to the room.

As a relatively new mom, I’m daily bombarded with blog posts, news reports, and  journal articles telling me what I should be doing and how I should be feeling when it comes to parenting.  Often times I walk away from these readings feeling defeated.  The worst are the overly-spiritual parenting bloggers.  They paint motherhood as a field of sunflowers that you frolic through, as you smile and admire your ever-delightful family frolicking next to you.  To be honest, when I am changing my daughter’s diaper and she keeps trying to grab her poop and bring it to her mouth, it’s hard for me to imagine us running through a field of daisies together.  All I can picture is feces.

My initial disgust with this story stemmed from the fact that I was a new mom, and I felt like the story was just another one of those readings telling me how I am not good enough.  I am sure I’ve had times where I look presentable at the grocery store; times where my daughter does not make a peep, and onlookers smile at us as we quietly stroll about the aisles.  But more often than not, I am the other mom.  I’m quickly running to the store because I’ve forgotten a key ingredient to our dinner recipe, or we’ve run out of toilet paper and already I’m frantic.  My daughter is, more than likely, yelling at me because I have ripped her away from her toys and am forcefully strapping her into her car-seat.  We finally arrive at the store, and now I am on referee duty trying to keep my daughter from grabbing everything she sees while also trying to remember what was on my shopping list–which has inevitably gone into hiding.  Frazzled would certainly be the ideal word to describe me, but foolish would not.

New moms, veteran moms, and somewhere-in-between moms, I am certain we’ve all had shopping trips like this.  Shopping trips where things did not go according to plan and our children forgot to put their show-face on in public.  At one time or another, we can all relate to the frazzled mom.  And I’m certain that in our frazzled state, what we needed was not judgment on our failure to show gentleness, but rather for someone to be gentle with us.

Here’s a better story about gentleness:

A woman embarks on the treacherous journey of Christmas shopping.  Minutes have turned into hours, and suddenly it feels like an entire week has been spent standing in the checkout line.  At this moment, one child demands  the nutritional snack of Gummi Worms.  Upon hearing the word “no”, the child then throws herself on the floor screaming.  This sparks a chain response with her other child.  The line continues to move forward, and the mom is forced to drag her screaming children along with her.  It becomes apparent that a crowd has gathered.  Fear and astonishment mark the faces of the onlookers.  Soon, the mom realizes that not only are these onlookers starring at her unruly children, they are also starring at her.  The mom notices a man approaching them, and it is a police officer.  Instead of addressing the mom’s inability to keep her family in line, the officer draws his attention to the children.  He informs the two girls that their mother and all the other shoppers have the desire to shop in peace, which they are disrupting with their screams.  The children fall silent.  The officer then turns to the mom and says, “Being a parent.  It’s a tough gig,” (Carry on Warrior 155-158).

When I think about gentleness, I can’t help but feel like we’ve missed the mark if we are looking down on those who aren’t depicting it.  The problem with someone making a judgement of who embodies gentleness more, is that they themselves are not extending gentleness.  Being gentle with one another goes beyond our circle of friends and family.  If we are only gentle to those in our circle, for example mother to child, then that really isn’t anything to be admired or praised.  The true gage gentleness is not through your interactions with your loved ones, but how you interact with those you do not know, including the frazzled mom with screaming children at the grocery store.  The true embodiment of gentleness is the officer offering a word of encouragement to an obviously frazzled and overwhelmed mom.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”

Unconditional Parenting

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Through my 14 months of parenting, I have always known what my role is.  My sole responsibility is to tend to Selah’s needs.  Is she hungry?  Is she thirsty?  Is she tired?  These questions constantly run on spin cycle in my head throughout the day.  As we enter further into toddlerhood, I am seeing my role begin to change.  My focus is not centered on her physical needs anymore, even though those needs are still high on her priority list.  As Selah grows, her emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are beginning to cry out for more attention.

To say parenting is overwhelming would be the understatement of the year.  My shoulders weigh heavily from carrying the burden of Selah’s livelihood; making sure she is still living and breathing every morning.  But now taking on the weight of her personhood; what she is and what she will become, is a burden that would easily make anyone cower in fear.  Contrary to popular belief, this is a task for the few, not for all.  Parenting is not something everyone is called to do, nor should do.  But I accepted this task when I decided to have a family.

I believe that who Selah will become, for the most part, is innate.  As her parent, I feel it is my responsibility to bring out what is already there inside of her.  Sure, I want to expose her to what the world has to offer, but I do so in order to discover what she likes and dislikes.  It was my husband and my decision that we will never squash the interests we discover Selah has.  If Selah enjoys building things, we want to get her all the Legos, building blocks, and Lincoln Logs we can find.  If Selah likes to help mommy clean the house, then we are going to get her all the tot-sized cleaning toys we can find.  For those of you who know me, I do identify myself as a feminist.  So yes, the idea of her enjoying domesticity is a fear of mine. But as I stated before, I have already made the decision to bring out who Selah innately is.

In theory, most of you have probably agreed with what I just said, but that may not be the case in practice.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, I’m sure you have read about a little boy who discovered an interest in My Little Pony.  He decided that he wanted a blue My Little Pony backpack which he received.  Upon being bullied at school, it was suggested that he leave his backpack at home as to not encourage bullying.  I remember reading comments on news reports of this incident, where other parents were condemning the mom for even buying the backpack in the first place. I cannot agree with these parents and I cannot agree with the school’s suggestion, because I believe in individual expression.  I believe the problem rests in the hands of the children who bully and their parents, not the child who chose to step outside of his gender box.  This is where the practice of what I said begins to divide some of you.

Whenever I step foot into a major retailer and walk down the toy aisle, I am bombarded with clearly defined sections of pink and blue.  In the pink sections, you can find all the Barbies, toy houses, and tot-sized vacuums your daughter’s heart desires.  In the blue section, you can find all the monsters, cars, and action figures your son could ever dream of.  Though there are some companies trying to step outside of these clearly defined sections, for example Goldieblox which tries to encourage interests in engineering for both girls and boys, this is simply what you will find in most stores.  I can’t blame the retailers, though, because they are just giving the public what they want.  They bend to the needs of the consumer, and I believe it is our culture that is to blame for claiming toys must be clearly girl or clearly boy.

I know parents who believe in clearly defining their children’s gender.  Boys cannot be in pastel colors for fear of being confused as a girl, and girls cannot be in bold, primary  colors for fear of being confused as a boy.  Boys cannot play with Barbies, for fear of them becoming too feminine, and girls cannot play with toy tool sets for fear of them becoming too masculine.

When I heard about this boy with the My Little Pony backpack, and read the negative comments; having seen the layout of major retailers, and interacted with parents who follow the belief of putting their child into their designated gender box, I can’t help but ask…

What are you afraid of?

So what if you find that your daughter likes things that are masculine, or that your son likes things that are feminine.  They are still your children, and these are the affinities that have been brought out of them.  Are we supposed to squash our children’s preferences simply because it challenges our culture’s gender expectations?  Is that what parenting is?

I can’t help but wonder if all this fear stems from the nature vs. nurture argument.  I wonder if, as parents, we push our children into a gender box, because we are too afraid of who they will become if we allow them to step outside of that box.  But what does that tell us?

What it tells me, is that our culture’s idea of parenting is conditional.  It tells me that we will only support, guide, and love our children if they become who we’ve deemed acceptable.  But the reality is, conditional parenting is not parenting at all.  Real parenting is deciding to play a constant role in your child’s life.  It’s deciding that you are in this for the long-haul; come rain or shine, you are their mom and you are their dad.

The Ugly Truth Behind Birth Plans

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During your first pregnancy, you have so many ideals in your head.  You read every pregnancy-related article, you strategically put together your birth plan, and you make lists of what you are going to do and what you are not going to do during pregnancy, labor and delivery.  I was no exception.

I bought all of the pregnancy week-by-week books, I took a Bradley Method course, and I watched every baby documentary I could find.  Slowly, I began formulating my ideals.  I desired to have an all-natural birth, because I thought that was the only correct option.  I was going to have a water birth at a birthing center, I was not going to have interventions of any sort, and I was not going to entertain the thought of pain relief because that is surely of the devil.

During those 9 months (more like 10), I proudly defended my choices to any and all who questioned them.  Some called me a hippie, and I took it as a complement.  As absurd as this sounds, I thought I was better than all of my other pregnant friends because I was going the all-natural route.  I judged every woman who went to the hospital for their labor and delivery, and I most certainly judged every woman who boasted about their epidural plans.  Believe you me; I was in for a rude awakening.

When I finally went into labor, absolutely nothing went according to my birth plan.  After laboring through two nights, and 10 hours after my water broke, my midwife made the call to transfer me to the hospital.  I burst into tears, feeling defeated and like an utter failure.  I had traded my cozy birthing center environment for a hospital room, and I had to chuck all of my  plans out the door.  My little one’s birth was no longer about my wants, but about her and getting her out in the quickest and safest way possible.

The thing I’ve learned about ideals is that we formulate them from our perfect-world scenarios.  We generally have no true experience when we create them, and so they simply exist as fantasies, that then fail in practicality.  What ideals inevitably do, is set you up for failure.  And that is certainly what my ideals did for me.

Eventually, I gave birth to a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl, who couldn’t have cared less how she entered the world.  She was just happy to be in it.  And the truth of it all is, regardless of whether  I was in the warm, homey environment of a birthing center, or in the hustle and bustle of a hospital, my daughter would have had the same outcome; which was joining an unconditionally loving and happy family.

I realize now that I had no idea what pregnancy or labor and delivery was like.  Even though it was good for me to have a birth plan, once I made the mistake of turning my birth plan into my birth ideals, I set myself up for failure.  I then became a rigid machine, unwilling to accept any deterrent from my projected path.  The reason why I felt so defeated is because of me and only me.  My body did not fail me, I did.  I forgot the age old wisdom that life does not always go my way.

Now, over a year later, I find myself in the same position; I am pregnant.  But, I refuse to fall victim to ideals this time around, because I want to set myself up for success.  I also refuse to judge other’s birth plans, because every woman deserves the right to choose what works best for them.  But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through all of this is that my children’s births are but a blink of an eye in comparison to the rest of their lives.  I should focus more on how my children live, rather than be fixated on how they are born.  So, from this pregnancy on, I am choosing to allow myself the freedom to plan whatever birth best suites my family, and also the freedom to divert from that plan when needed without fear of judgment or feeling defeated.

 

Guest Post-How I’m going to Have It All

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A few years ago as I was preparing to get married, I had a conversation with my grandmother.  Amid the discussions of wedding flowers, invitations, color schemes, and bridesmaids’ dresses, she offered me a golden nugget of advice.  She said “Theresa, I really believe that you can have it all.  In your life, you can absolutely have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.”

By nature, I’m a busy person.  I thrive off of a full schedule and lots of activity.  My husband once joked that I only have two settings: “on” and “off.”  This temperament coupled with a Type A personality got me through college and grad school by 23 and has made me very successful in my career as a technical project manager.  I have been known to rush in the door from work, whip up a home-cooked dinner, then shove it in my face while running out the door to teach acting lessons at our church.  The next night you may find me taking my dog to an agility class; then throwing a dinner party over the weekend.

But my entire world was turned upside down on July 23, 2013 when the doctors first handed me the sweetest, most handsome baby boy I had ever seen.  I instantly knew that life would never be the same; that I would never be the same.  These last 6 months have been an interesting see-saw as I have tried to shift priorities and learn a little about balance.

With that in mind, I have declared 2014 the year of the “no.”  Over the holidays, my husband and I made a conscious decision to drastically reduce our commitments this year.  I quit a number of my volunteer obligations, I’ve started saying no to outings and coffee dates with friends, and we aren’t hosting as many events at our house.  I’m focusing this year on two areas: my family and my job.  I’m forcing everything else to take a back seat.  Does this mean I intend to become a hermit and never go out again with my friends or say no to every volunteer opportunity?  Of course not.  I’m just making a conscious effort to not say “yes” to an invitation until I’ve had the opportunity to weigh the cost.

You see, what I’ve come to realize is that in saying “yes” to absolutely everything, I wasn’t really “doing it all.”  In fact, by constantly agreeing to more commitments I was actually taking away my own power of choice.  I was losing control of my time and I had less energy to  focus on the things that really mattered to me.  And every time I said “yes” to something, I was already saying “no” to something else, I just wasn’t aware of it.  So I’m reversing the cycle.  I’m saying “no” to everything first so that I have the power to say “yes” when I really want to.

The beauty of this new philosophy of mine is that I think it really will let me have it all: a beautiful family, a successful career, rewarding volunteer opportunities, and a great network of close friends.  Maybe I will finally get to run that half marathon I have always wanted to finish.  Or write a book (hey, with my busy schedule I was just happy to read one every so often).

In my lifetime, I have every intention of having it all.  But I am recognizing the wisdom in my grandmother’s words more and more each day.  If I really want to have all of those things, then I have to begin to focus on each of them in their own season.  My son will only be young once.  He will only have his first laugh once.  He will only take his first bite of food, his first steps, his first word once.  These are moments I can never get back, and there is no way I am going to miss them.  By saying “no” to so many other things, I am able to say “yes” to him more.  I am able to say “yes” to an evening snuggle before bed.  I am able to say “yes” to sitting on the couch and listening to my husband read him a story.  I am able to say “yes” to making all his baby food.  I am able to say “yes” to playing on the floor for 2 hours on a Saturday morning.

But don’t think for one second that I am saying “no” forever.  I will come back to my volunteer hours.  I’ll be back asking for promotions.  I will soon be tackling projects around our house again.  That’s the beauty of life.  We go through so many seasons in the course of a lifetime and I’m coming to realize that today’s “no” can still be tomorrow’s “yes.”  Sacrifices aren’t necessarily made forever.  During the course of a lifetime we can have it all.

So please forgive me if I say “no” the next time you want to meet for coffee.  Forgive me if I’m not at church every single Sunday.  Forgive me if I disappointed you when I quit volunteering for your organization.  This is my year of the “no.”  Because I have every intention of having it all, I just know I can’t have it all at once.

Dear Amy…

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Dear Amy Glass,

If you ever read this, I am sure you will immediately notice that I fit into the category of “mommy blogger”.  So, I won’t be surprised if you discredit everything I am about to write.  As I have written before though, it is unfair to discredit someone solely based on a difference of opinions.

Even though I disagree with your view of a stay-at-home mom, I can tell that you are a strong-willed, independent woman who aspires to do something great in this world.  For that, I do applaud you.  It seems that your desire is for women to be ambitious, to achieve greatness, and you are using your words to try and inspire women to do so.  That is something to be noted and recognized.

Unfortunately though, your words are not giving inspiration.  There is a fine line between challenging and attacking, and I do believe your attempt to challenge women has actually come across as an attack on many.  Your call was for women to step outside of the box that our culture has shoved us into; but your idea of achievements is in fact calling women to step into another box.  What you are telling women is that if they don’t define themselves by their career, then they are not ambitious and have not achieved anything.  What you have done is set limitations and boundaries on what achievements women are allowed to make.  This narrow-minded definition of success is the very essence of why women stood up for equality in the first place.

You write a lot about men achieving greatness because they don’t allow things of little importance–like children–to get in their way.  Then, you challenge women to think like men do, and strive for achievements outside of the home.

What you are calling for,  is a role reversal.  I do not believe the solution to inequality is for women to think and act like men, because I do find error in the traditional/stereotypical role of a man.  When someone, male or female, solely identifies themselves with their work, then their relationships suffer.  I have seen too many broken families because one spouse has decided that they have nothing to do with what goes on at home.  If you have no intention to take part in parenting a child, then there is no reason for you to have a family to begin with. If your desire is to solely focus on your career, which is completely fine and acceptable, then just don’t have a family.

I am sure there are readers now, who are claiming that I don’t think women can do it all: have a career and have a family.  This is not true, you can have both, but if you want to “have your cake and eat it to”, then you are required to be fully present in both roles, as an employee and as a parent.

The notable feminist Gloria Steinem, which I am sure you have heard of, has said, “The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.”  You praise men for their ability to completely separate themselves from their home life, and urge women to do the same.  You also see the home as something of little importance.  So, I wonder what your view of a stay-at-home dad is.  Do you see them as weak individuals too?  Or would you applaud them for not being your idea of a stereotypical man, because that would be inequality and a double standard.

You may have called me weak and lacking ambition, but that does not make me waiver from my decision to be a stay-at-home mom.  I encourage you to come to Lakeland, FL, where you will find many women who made an informed, not forced, decision to stay at home.  There are many stay-at-home moms here, including me, that are college-educated, which I am sure you will see as a disappointment, but we do not.  Your view of a stay-at-home mom is someone who folds her husband’s clothes and changes her child’s diaper, but we are so much more than a maid or a nanny.  If you would have taken the time to truly get to know us, you would have been able to see that.  There are many stay-at-home moms here in Lakeland that are incredible artists, amazing photographers, inspiring writers, challenging educators, and selfless volunteers.  So please refrain from stereotyping us as women who are weak-willed, that allow themselves to forced to fill roles that you think no one should fill.

And next time you want to call the role of stay-at-home mom “the path of least resistance” I would ask you to walk a mile in our shoes.  When I was a working mom, no one ever looked down on me or questioned my significance as a woman.  But the day I became a stay-at-home mom I have constantly been fighting against people like you that claim I am somehow less-than because I don’t receive a paycheck for my work.

Sincerely,

a strong-willed, passionate, opinionated, feminist, wife, and stay-at-home mom

How I Survived My First Year of Parenting

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Selah will be turning 11 months this week, and as her first birthday is quickly approaching, I can’t help but be nostalgic over this past year.  I’ll be sitting in Selah’s nursery watching her play and I can’t believe how much she has grown.  “This can’t be the child I brought home from the hospital,” I say to myself.

My husband and I decided that on top of the birthday party we’ll be throwing for Selah, we are also going to have a “We Survived Our First Year of Parenting” party.  I remember some of the 3am feedings and thinking that there was no way I could survive another sleepless night, but I did.  And here I am almost a year later.

So, while my nostalgia is overwhelming me at the moment, I thought I’d jot down some of the few survival tips I’ve learned along the way….

1. Your partner is not the enemy.  

For those of you who have kids, I am sure you can understand that there are good days, and then there are bad days.  Whenever a bad day comes along, it’s important to keep in mind that your partner is just that, your partner.  They are there to help you; to assist you in this crazy thing we do called parenting.  I will admit, I am quick to lose sight of that.  If Selah is fussy, if she is refusing to nap, if she just isn’t content unless someone is holding her, I lose it and typically it’s on Jonathan.  I forget that we are in this together, and that there is such a thing as asking for help.

2. NAP!

Before having Selah, everyone told me to sleep whenever I had the chance.  Did I listen?  Of course not!  Whenever my bundle of joy would sleep, all I could focus on around me was the never-ending pile of dishes and laundry.  I thought to be the perfect parent and spouse, I had to appear busy and have it all together.  I viewed my zombie-like state as a badge of honor to broadcast to the world that I’m doing it all!  I soon realized that I don’t have to have it all together 100% of the time, and decided that for my own sanity–and the safety of my husband and child– naps should be welcomed with open arms!

3. Put your mental and emotional health above your physical health.

All my health nuts out there are probably up in arms about this, but hear me out.  I’m not saying that you should forgo your physical health, because you do need to be able to pick up and play with your child.  What I’m suggesting is that, during this season of sheer chaos, you work on your inner self above obsessing over your outer appearance.  Once I popped out my chuncker-of-a-newborn, I thought I had to be back to my pre-pregnancy weight ASAP.  The moment my midwife cleared me, I had my running shoes on, and was hitting the pavement.  Whatever energy I had in those beginning days was spent working out.  I didn’t care that I was only getting a few hours of sleep at night, or that I hadn’t truly spoken to my spouse in days; I was getting back into shape. It didn’t last long, though.  Instead of obsessing over losing weight, I began spending my spare time reading, talking to friends and family, and going on nature walks.  I found that if I was mentally and emotionally happy, I was a better spouse and a better parent.  Then, once life became a bit more manageable and not so chaotic, that’s when I put my running shoes back on.

4. Plan Ahead!

I learned early on that the amount of time it took Jonathan and I to get out the door had doubled, if not tripled.  What would keep me sane on the mornings we had somewhere to be, and assist in getting everyone out the door in a timely manner, was planning ahead.  For example, on Sundays we attend a church service, and a community breakfast.  When Jonathan and I have Selah’s diaper bag packed the night before, her outfit laid out for the morning, and her breakfast already made, those Sunday mornings run so much more smoothly.

5. Give grace at 3am.

No one thinks rationally when woken in the middle of the night by a screaming baby, especially if it’s the second, third, or even fourth time.  There is no such thing as a filter.  All that exists is your most carnal self.  Jonathan and I have been the most impatient with each other during this time, and have said some of the worst things to each other.  Know that whatever comes out of your partner’s mouth, typically, is just from sleep deprivation.  So learn to give grace, because more than likely you will be needing it to.

Parenthood is one of the most rewarding, challenging, amazing, crazy, loving, and exhausting experiences in life.  And from what I’ve heard, it never ends.  I’ve only been Selah’s mom for about a year, so I know there is so much more yet to learn.  What I’d like to leave you with is this: the perfect parent does not exist.  Allow room for mistakes, and learn to not just give grace to your partner but also to yourself.  Find what parenting style works best for you, and then stand firm.